The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Chiquitania scenery after the fire

Photo credit: Photofox

Last semester I took Magazine Writing with B.J. Roche (if you're a journalism major looking for an advanced writing class, I highly recommend this one).

We had to work on five different pieces on a range of topics throughout the semester, and one of them was writing about a public issue. At the time we were choosing our subjects, massive wildfires were making its way through the Brazilian Amazonia and its neighbor region, the Chiquitania, located in Bolivia (my home country). I’d heard a lot about Brazil, and surprisingly Bolivia was even being talked about, but being from Bolivia—and having been there when the fires started—I knew that what the mainstream news was reporting was just the tip of the iceberg. And so, I took the opportunity and decided to write about the Bolivian wildfires and write my public issue piece about it.

I had an idea of what I wanted to write about since before I even started my reporting. I knew that the fires were caused by human activity, and that it had everything to do with our then-president's less-than-ecofriendly agrobusiness policies. This specific issue had been extensively reported by Bolivian news outlets, but I needed to find sources of my own that could help me confirm and understand everything that was happening. Moreover, I needed to find someone who would help me put a face to my story. It needed to be someone who understood what was happening, but that was also experiencing firsthand how devastating these wildfires were.

Finding these people wasn’t going to be easy, but luckily, the journalism gods intervened, and I found two of the most perfect sources I could’ve ever found (though not the only ones I included).

One was a documentary filmmaker who had gone to the Chiquitania forest to film a documentary about the fire, and the other one was the CEO of a foundation specializing in analyzing public issues on a systemic level (and who had done a report about climate change in the political agenda).

I should mention that I did all of my reporting remotely. It took lengthy WhatsApp and Skype calls, but the pain of having to work around not being able to meet in person was worth every second of those interviews.

The piece ended up having voices from four different people, plus data and political information. It was by writing this piece that I truly realized all the work that goes behind investigative journalism, and it was an amazing process. Finding all the information, getting it confirmed or debunked by sources, and being able to shed light on a problem was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.

The piece ended being published in the Amherst Wire, and it even trended there for a little bit.

What I loved the most about working on the story was that I got to be a part of telling the truth. I was helping bring light to a story I knew those in power back home were trying to obscure, and I was helping make the conversation go international. It was amazing to see that people at UMass Amherst were reading my story, but it was even better to see that people at home were getting to see it too. It was an amazing feeling to know that people were finding out the truth, and just being a part of that made me proud in the career path I was choosing to follow.


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